Thursday, January 20, 2011

20th Century 20 - 5

Brian Moynihan is not, at the moment, the most beloved of CEOs.

Unlike Bank of America's current President Moynihan, the bank's first President, Amadeo Giannini, was fiscally thrifty, and terribly generous. His former Bank of Italy went defunct on April 18th, 1906, when San Francisco was shattered by an earthquake and fire. Out of the rubble he began lending.

Giannini's Bank of America worked with small businesses: his policies are the same as those now used around the world. But in 1906 these decisions were still fairly radical. Nowadays Bank of America is the largest lending bank in the United States.

Not only that, but B of A started something new: non-local banks with branches over large areas. Before Giannini, and Monette his co-creator, banks were local affairs. By creating a California-wide bank Bank of America set in place a whole new way of doing business, and, from a consumer standpoint, a whole new way to think about banks.

These steps set up the rise of international commerce in a way not seen since the East India Company. Modern global trade needed national banks, and later international ones. Branch banking paved the way.

Many anecdotal loans come from Giannini's Bank of America: one to Disney for Snow White, one to a start-up run by Hewlitt and Packard. The formation of national banks, and national bank businesses, is one of his great legacies. The other is the inverse: the foundation of banks with personal and small business loans and lending. The American, and world, economy would look very different without them.

Oh, and so would San Francisco's skyline. He bankrolled the Golden Gate Bridge, as well.

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